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X-Men Legends
Platform:  X-Box
# of Players:  1-4
Developer:  Raven Soft
Publisher:  Activision
Features:  Action RPG
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  
This is it true believers, this is the X-Men game you’ve been waiting for. Fans of the venerable comic series can finally be proud that they’ve spent all night playing an X-Men game. Legends is better than anybody dared to hope, though there is still much room for improvement, should this game receive a sequel.

You would think that transcribing one of the oldest and most beloved comic books to video game form wouldn’t have been so difficult, but years of mismanagement have all but ruined hopes that the mutants would ever be well represented in the medium. Oh, developers have tried everything, from point and click adventures, to ridiculous fighting games, but few have captured the true spirit of the X-Men. The best we’ve gotten was the X-Men arcade cabinet, a game that richly deserves a GBA port, but that was released over a decade ago. X-Men Legends is a game that will keep developers thinking about the franchise seriously, while at the same time keeping fans satisfied.

The premise for Legends is different than any of the previous titles, as it is the first role-playing game that the X-Men have starred in. When the project was first announced, fans (myself included) were a bit worried that the end product would end up a Final Fantasy clone with mutants. Luckily, Raven Soft took a different approach, and instead decided to copy the success of the console Baldur’s Gate. Instead of the X-Men standing opposite Magneto and politely waiting turns during battle, you are given direct control over, not one, but four of the mutants.

A top down action-RPG gives the game much more freedom than what a more traditional role-playing format could have offered. A more hands on approach really grants the player a feeling of controlling massive superpowers, something that would’ve undoubtedly took cut scenes to accomplish elsewhere. Think of the summons in Final Fantasy, which are indeed beautiful, but are hardly conducive to a fast paced experience. The X-Men are exciting for a great many reasons, one of which is the myriad of explosive powers these heroes wield. Raven understands this, and grants easy access to the individual powers. Unfortunately, the worst part of the top-down view is also apparent in this title. Battles can either look to far away, or too close to really tell what is going on. One day this aspect of the dungeon crawler will be perfected, just not with Legends.

The other thing that Raven understands is that the fan base for a 40-year-old comic series is enormous. Instead of working against that, Legends is full of so many comic references and pieces of fan service, you’ll likely have as much fun discovering these as playing the actual game. In between missions you are given control of a young mutant, who has been brought to Xaviers Mansion to protect her from The Brotherhood, a sort of mutant Al Queda. Using her as your avatar, you are given free reign of the X-Men’s base of operations, the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. While roaming around the grounds you’ll come across various nods to the comics and movies, like a letter from Storm to Forge about a dinner date. Fans of the comics are undoubtedly grinning ear to ear about this, but the real pleasure for me was finding Jubilee in the game. Fans of the series have bought some of the worst games though, so fan service does not necessarily mean a good experience. It does help though.

The major problem with the previous games is the fact that none of them made any sense when compared to the source material. Every mission in Legends is a nod to a story arc found in the comics, and the enemies make sense. When wandering around the X-Mansion you can look over comic covers, test your skills in the Danger Room and even test your knowledge of the X-Men universe. This is a game for made for fans, but one that everybody can pick up and enjoy.

When you start the game, you are given control over Wolverine in a thinly veiled tutorial level that explains the various techniques you’ll be using through the entire game. It breaks down as follows: two buttons are used for basic attacks, quick and strong. One button is used for jump, and the other is used for an “Xtreme” power, which is a massive attack that produces some excellent light shows. By holding down the R trigger, you gain quick access to three unique superpowers, plus your Xtreme ability. It’s a simple interface that is easily learned and just as easily used.

Midway through the first level you gain the ability to control another X-Men and from then on, you are never in charge of just one character. While you only directly control one of the characters at a time, you may switch with the press of the digital pad, each direction representing one of the characters. The other three act according to an AI script that is supposed to control every action from healing to attack frequency. Sadly, this script is a little rough around the edges.

Healing is the major point of contention here, as the supposed responses to damage don’t seem to matter at all. For instance, you set your character’s AI to heal every time his/her health drops below 20%. In a perfect game, they would actually do this. In this game, however, it works about half the time. I often had characters die on me when I had plenty of healing items left. What is supposed to be fluid teamwork often turns into frantic babysitting. It isn’t enough to completely destroy the game, but on extended play it does tend to get a bit frustrating. Healing potions are also a little scarce, and you can’t buy them from Forge’s store.

As in most RPG’s defeating enemies grant you experience points, which you can exchange for upgrades to various abilities and stats. For example, in the beginning of the game, Wolverine is absent his trademark healing factor, though after a few kills you gain a level. When this happens you gain a couple of stat points and some skill points. You use the stat points to upgrade your innate abilities like strike, agility, body and focus. The first stat increases your fighting ability, agility is your defense, upping your body increases your health and finally focus dictates your maximum energy and energy regeneration rate.

This last attribute is one of the most important, as your mutant energy is what powers every special move that makes the X-Men so fun to play with. Everything from Cyclops’ optic blasts to Jean Grey’s telekinetic abilities are fueled by this energy, and you’ll be using these feats often through the game. If you think of it as the superpowers being magic, and the mutant energy being mana, you’ll understand a bit better.

The skill points dictate which abilities your character will be able to use in battle, much like the traditional skill tree found in other dungeon-crawlers. Every character has their own set of unique skills, as well as some that are shared amongst different mutants. For instance, Cyclops is the only character who can use the optic blast, (duh) but both Beast and Rogue have the “might” ability. Upgrade this with enough skill points, and you’ll be able to pick up or destroy just about everything on the screen with your bare hands.

The battles themselves are very fluid, and take different strategies depending on the enemies and the team you have assembled. Sometimes choosing the right teammates can mean the difference between life and death. Choosing between personal favorites (Iceman) and more useful members of the team can become a little heart wrenching for fans, but those are the sacrifices you make to proceed in the game. For the most part the characters are fairly balanced, though every strength and weakness is consistent with the comic books. Don’t expect Jubilee to be the best hand-to-hand fighter, for example. The best teams are a balance of energy attacks, strength and fighting ability. As every member of the team contributes to the fighting in different ways, it is very possible that you might miss certain things on your first play through. For instance, if you do not have a flyer in your party you might miss some secrets hidden at the top of a building.

A game like this just begs for multi-player, and surprise, you have it. Up to four people can play together, each controlling their favorite character. Word’s alone cannot begin to describe the fun that can be had with four comic book nerds arguing over who gets to play as Wolverine. For the record, I never get to play as him…I’m always stuck with Cyclops. Honestly though, I have not had this much fun playing co-op since the original Gauntlet. If you have friends who are fans of either video games or comics, this is a game that will keep you entertained for years. There is even a skirmish mode that allows for some excellent deathmatch play, along with a King of the Hill battle, last man standing and brawl mode.

This game has already been a source of a few sleepless nights, and I know more will be on the way. I freely admit being a fan though, something that was obvious when I didn’t miss any questions on the trivia minigame, so I am a bit biased. As a dungeon crawler, the game could ease up on the difficulty. If you’re not a fan, you might stop playing the second time Pyro kicks your ass, but if you are, you’ll not rest until you’ve completed every single thing the game has to offer.

M. Shawn Darnell

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